Iowa Mental Health Advocates Discuss Historic Children’s Mental Health Law

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DES MOINES, Iowa -- Mental health advocates say the bill, HF690, that has now become law has been 34 years in the making and they are hoping this new law will actually put changes in motion across the entire state of Iowa.

The law creates a framework for a children’s mental health system.

Mental health advocates Mary Neubauer and Larry Loss have been fighting to improve mental health services in Iowa ever since they lost their teen son, Sergei, to suicide.

"Without the hotline, without the help, everybody's on their own and it's just extremely difficult. And the doctors and the nurses were very caring people. They wanted to help but they didn't have a resource available to them to even offer up to us to help in the situation. So Mary's pushed for that. It's a very big item that we think would be essential for building the program up," Larry Loss said.

Governor Kim Reynolds signed the children's mental health bill into law on Wednesday and in the new law it outlines making crisis services available for kids all across the state, creating a 24/7 mental health hotline and training faculty and staff in schools to be able to better identify when a child is dealing with a mental health problem.

The Executive Director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness in Iowa Peggy Huppert said having access to crisis services is key.

“No matter where you live and who you are and what form of reimbursement you have, you should have access to them. And we need to have certain standards of care as well, that we can all agree on. And then there needs to be somebody overseeing this to make sure it happens. So that's what we’ve done in this bill,” Huppert said.

Neubauer said there are some things that did not make it into the bill.

“One of the big recommendations from the board that is not in the bill is universal screening for kids, for mental health. You know, you think about the screening that we do for vision and for hearing and things like that, that kind of testing developed over time,” Neubauer said.

Neubauer said there is a group working on a pilot project of these screenings that will hopefully lead to standard universal children's mental health screenings in the future.

“We hope that mental health is moving from that thing that nobody wants to talk about to just something that we are all talking about because we all need both our mental health and our physical health to truly be well,” Neubauer said.

Neubauer and Huppert said this is just the first step and they will continue to push for more funding and legislation in the next session.

In the meantime, NAMI in Iowa said it will continue to make sure what's laid out in this new law is put into action.

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